Harvard Law School

Application Essays – ANGELA CHAN

What Worked for them can Help You Get into the Law School of Your Choice

After a sleep-depriving round of midterms in our study abroad courses at the University of Cambridge, a friend and I finally embark on our long-awaited visit to Italy. Rome, with its stone foundations and age-old monuments, promises to hold all the romantic nostalgia worthy of its title as the Eternal City. Within the first minutes of our arrival, however, disaster strikes. A pickpocket steals all of my friend’s cash, credit cards, and IDs, and suddenly we are no longer young adults chasing a childhood dream, but victims of a crime in a country whose language we cannot speak. Despite our efforts, her wallet is not recovered; even the police can only offer a belated warning of caution.

Still visibly shaken, my friend mourns the injustice more than the theft: How can anyone commit an act so morally wrong, especially when it only hurts innocent bystanders? Though I understand her indignation, I cannot help but quietly wonder if anyone truly steals for the sake of immorality. Not only in Rome, but also in Paris, Barcelona, and the other major cities we travel to, there is an unexpected and underlying presence of poverty. While tourists spend the equivalent of $20 on Italian gelato, children beg for penies beside the Pantheon. Even my economics classes cannot prepare me for such striking illustrations of the uneven distribution of wealth. It is true, there is injustice here –but in a world of excess, it seems the real victims are those who do not even have enough to live by.

I led a more than privileged life: I have a loving, supportive family, a God-given penchant for learning, and enough financial stability to pursue even personal interests like the performing arts. These are blessings my term abroad had taught me not to take for granted. There are so many less fortunate than I, I who did nothing to deserve being born where and who I am, with the possibility and ability to achieve my dreams. This is not a shortsighted epiphany, quickly dispelled by the concerns of everyday life, but a conviction that inspires me to use my opportunities to achieve more; the American dream, for me, is a universal one. Never again do I want to feel like I did that semester, limited to an apologetic smile and a few euros in an empty cup, helpless to help those whom my heart broke for. No, 1 with all my privileges, with my U.S. citizenship, education, socioeconomic foundation, and bicultural understanding, am in such a prime position to impact the lives of others, to alleviate burdens, and create lasting improvements—and I have no intention of doing any less.

With the mind-set that I needed to start somewhere, no matter how small, I returned home to pursue an internship with Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit health plan. I could not imagine a place better suited to teach me the ways of helping others, and they did not disappoint: Day in and day out, I rectified pain points caused by misleading information on our website and ensured customer service agents were equipped with the most accurate responses. My work contributed to productive and medically sound interactions with Kaiser’s online services, delivering a safe patient experience to the over four million members who utilized our digital properties. Now this, this was real change, and I was confident it would only lead to even greater ones. Despite all my excitement at the positive impact I was making, however, I soon saw that even the end of this road was not enough for me. Numerous times, the problems I worked on were elevated to the legal staff because the roots of the issues lay in the law, not the execution. Only the lawyers were equipped to protect the patient as well as the health plan, thus allowing Kaiser to continue serving many more. Their influence was not confined to the boardroom either; both distraught mothers, and furious grandsons, all moved by concern for a loved one’s well-being, were calmed by the professionalism and efficiency with which our lawyers resolved their cases. With such personal interaction coupled with the ability to address and remedy real-life concerns, law seemed to be the epitome of all that I sought for.

My experience at Kaiser Permanente has shown me several ways to address the needs of a community; my memories of studying abroad urge me to find my greatest capacity to do so. I choose law school because I have seen firsthand the greater reach of such an education. I will not allow a lack of knowledge or dedication, factors that I can affect, to hinder me from giving to my fullest extent. Legal training will also hone my unique skills and interests, increasing upon my greatest strengths so that I can best serve others. And I know that it is abroad and idealist, this goal of “helping others,” but the lack of specificity doesn’t make the pain I feel at seeing another’s suffering or their suffering itself any less real. With time, I will better define how exactly I can be of use to my community. Law school is the first step in that direction, ensuring that I will be more than ready to act upon it when I do, and to do so to my greatest potential.

The real strength in this essay is its sincerity. One genuinely believes that Angela Chan wishes to go to law school in order to help others. Giving an example of how to apply a law degree after school is obviously important to include, but in this example it is further strengthened by the entire structure of the piece. Although the Kaiser example alone would have been a reason to apply to law school, the description of her experience in Italy allows us to catch a glimpse of who she is and where her moral judgment comes from—both very important takeaways from a personal statement. Chan effectively prefaces how she hopes to help others by first providing background on why she wishes to help them in the first place. She also brings the study abroad experience back at the end, which makes the example feel more grounded.

Another aspect that lends itself to a note of sincerity is her voice in the piece. With stylish choices like, “Now this, this was real change …” we can see that Chan is not simply putting on airs but is speaking as passionately and fluidly in her essay as she would in person. She does little to glamorize the setting in which she finds herself—Italy and in the workplace at Kaiser – but rather very clearly depicts problems that she encountered and how she tried to remedy them. She conveys her sense of both enjoyment in helping others and dissatisfaction in not being able to do more. I did feel that some of her statements were a bit vague and/or grandiose, such as, “I could not imagine a place better suited to teach me the ways of helping others,” but because she acknowledges her goals as “broad and idealistic” this didn’t detract too much from her argument.

Finally, this essay has a great tone of humanity. Although talking about one’s accomplishments is unavoidable in any application, Chan does so by talking about the privilege she has in being able to help others. This sense of gratitude is refreshing and appealing of any candidate, especially when coupled with a clear desire to be proactive and take advantage of opportunities. Chan manages to show us what she hopes to do with a law degree without being overly righteous.

-Anneli Tostar

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